By now, we should not be surprised by anything 2019 throws our way. But an October snowstorm? Come on, get serious! Well, I am serious, and my does it look and feel like winter here on Oct. 31. We received two different 2-inch snows, the first a heavy wet one, the second a solid blowing kind being pushed around by 20 mph winds. Everything is covered, but we hope for a quick melt beginning this weekend. What else does 2019 have in store for us — ice, heavy snow blizzard, or above normal temps and open ground? I sure wish we knew, so we could be more prepared. Several of our grain farming neighbors with standing corn and beans sure need a little help, too.
A very unusual fall has also brought us a blessing or two. The reed canary grass that we always kiss goodbye at a first hard frost is still green and alive. The circumstances allowing this must surely be the warm ground that negated the effect of the frost. Or, maybe the shortness of exposure, since each frost was quickly removed by early, strong morning sunshine. We are not sure of the answer, but we are still grazing the reed along with the corn residue. Looking at this forecast and the temperatures, we can be moving into the stockpiled fescue most any time. It is lush and accompanied by a great stand of clover, as well. Of course, right now it is covered with a few inches of snow. The big question is whether we can graze 50 days or so without fighting weather before the end of the year. I recall the crazy weather year of 2019 actually began with 8 inches of heavy wet snow in November a year ago in 2018.
I promised to report on the weight results on our grazed steers of 2019. We are somewhat disappointed, but not too surprised that the entire group gained exactly 1 pound per day for the entire time they were here. I had as a goal to reach 1.5 pounds per day. I felt like the last 60 to 90 days they exceeded that, but the first 60 to 90 were difficult to manage and be in even positive gain with the management issues brought about with the weather of 2019. So, what we accomplished matched our previous 10 years of experience with development heifers, consistently adding 1 pound per day. I am looking at it this way for a positive spin. If we can log 200 AUs — an AU equals 1 day grazing by a 1,000-pound beef — per acre on our reed canary grass and endophyte fescue paddocks, that returns a net of $75 to $100 per acre for the year. I can be comfortable with that.
The great thing about grazing as an enterprise, or part of a complete beef enterprise, is that inputs are minimal and therefore the profits are consistent and nearly guaranteed. All that is really needed is a good combination of forage, water and practical fencing as the basic beginning and then an intense management rotational grazing system with the cattle. It really sounds pretty simple, and it is and fun to make work, too.
I hosted the Western Illinois University beef nutrition class with Dr. Keela Trennepohl on Oct. 15 from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. It was a near-perfect fall day. Two lab groups made about 40 students. We did our best to cover rotational grazing and the benefits and also do some touring and looking at forage, as well as doing some manure evaluation. The students found something that was very interesting. When they tested for brix scores, they reasoned that the lush red clover score would be higher than the fescue score. However, the results were higher readings for the STF43 soft leaf fescue than the red clover.
We are not signed off on our turnkey grazing lease as of yet, so I will be reporting more on that next month. As you finish fall work, be careful out there.